The history of chocolate begins in Latin America where Cacao trees grew wild. The Olmecs who lived in southeast Mexico in 1000 BC were the first to have probably used chocolate. It was the word Kakawa from their language that gave us the word cocoa. A place in Honduras lays claim being the original Cacao producer. It was 1000 years later during the Maya civilisation that chocolate was brought into use. In fact, 10 beans could buy a prostitute or a rabbit. If you wanted to buy a slave you would be poorer by 100 cocoa beans. Parts of Latin America used these beans as currency until the 19th century. Chocolate was an important part of religious ceremonies during the Mayas. Brides and grooms exchanged chocolates during marriages. There was a Cocoa God as well. The chocolate was prepared purely for drinking purposes those days. Lily traces the antiquity of chocolates, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Chocolates are the ideal gift for someone you love. We, l that may be their USP but for me, it’s a sweet memory embedded in my heart from girlhood. The teasing taste of melting ecstasy blended with fruits and nuts. A volley of blissful bursts of sinful solace that meant the world! The knowledge of ancient times that chocolate is an aphrodisiac is now perfected by the valentine brigade. Mountains of chocolates are sold during the festival of love. Each loved one feels special when a box with a bow arrives along with a few dozen red roses.
The history of chocolate begins in Latin America where Cacao trees grew wild. The Olmecs who lived in south-east Mexico in 1000 BC were the first to have probably used chocolate. It was the word Kakawa from their language that gave us the word cocoa. A place in Honduras lays claim being the original Cacao producer.
It was 1000 years later during the Maya civilisation that chocolate was brought into use. The Cacoa beans were used as currency during that time. I was aghast to read somewhere that 10 beans could buy a prostitute or a rabbit. If you wanted to buy a slave you would be poorer by 100 cocoa beans. Parts of Latin America used these beans as currency until the 19th century.
Chocolate was an important part of religious ceremonies during the Mayas. Brides and grooms exchanged chocolates during marriages. There was a Cocoa God as well. The chocolate was prepared purely for drinking purposes those days.
The process involved harvesting, fermenting and drying the beans. Later, they were roasted and their shells were removed. The remaining beans were ground to a paste with hot water and spices like. Chilli, allspice, annatto, honey, flowers and vanilla. A froth was then made by swishing the drink between two containers. This froth was relished most by the Mayas.
Corn meal was added at times to make a gruel. The Latin Americans still love a drink called Pinole, which is quite similar to that one. Who would have thought about this technique being as old as the hills when a modern mother cools a hot chocolate beverage for her eager kid now and teases him about the moustache of foam on his upper lip?
Chocolate was mostly consumed by the richer Mayas though the lower strata had it once in a while. The well-off folks had elaborate drinking vessels for the chocolate. Kings were buried with jars of chocolate next to them.
Later Aztecs conquered the Mayas and ruled between 1200 and 1500. They kept using Cacoa as currency but drank it cool instead of hot. A legend says that the Aztec God Quetzalcoatl was banished from Paradise because he gave chocolate to humans. They thought that it was only fit for the Gods.
Cortez and his friends came in 1529. It seems the king had a billion beans in storage. Cortez understood their worthwhile Columbus before him had not understood their importance.
The Spanish next conquered the Caribbean islands where they encountered sugar for the first time.
The addition of sweetness to the bitter taste of chocolate was one of the turning .points in its history. What was once called more a drink for pigs than a drink for humanity, soon got a pride of place in Spain as a medicinal drink. Doctors considered it a health drink and prescribed it for pain, fevers, cooling and digestion.
Since it beat coffee and tea and became the first caffeine food to reach Europe, it slowly travelled all over from Spain.
During King Louis XIV’s tenure chocolate houses opened in London. Cinnamon and milk also blended into the drink here. The journey of chocolate to its current melt in mouth avatar had begun in real earnest now.
As demand increased in Europe, the British, French and the Dutch did not depend on the Spanish. Slaves were employed and plantations sprung up in many territories under the Europeans like Java, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, Africa, and West Indies. As prices fell, slowly the precious taste of chocolate became affordable for the common man.
In 1800s, a Dutchman invented a cocoa press for smashing the chocolate to separate the cocoa butter. In 1850, the truly fun times began when an Englishman Joseph Fry added much more cocoa butter, in place of hot to cocoa powder and sugar. This was the discovery of the first solid chocolate that we eat now. In 1875, Henri Nestle added condensed milk to the concoction. This was the take-off point for the milk chocolate that we grew up licking off our grubby fingers! In 1879, a Swiss man invented the machine called the conch that helped make chocolate creamy.
Chocolate’s popularity kept soaring as the soldiers of the World Wars got them as part of their rations. The darker side of this dark wonder is that slave like conditions and child labour rampant.
So choose your poison if you haven’t already. Whether milk, bitter, white or any other, simply go out and indulge! There is a world of flavours waiting to be explored. Besides being great for your love life, they aid in mood elevation and heart health.
These little magical fellows can keep you younger for a longer time. Dark chocolate gets a huge thumbs up for its antioxidants. It lowers blood pressure and helps in blood flow. It also miraculously raises HDL. Quite a little bomb don’t you think? Stock your fridge people, as I slyly hide the sparkling silver foil in which my little sweetheart was wrapped! Also don’t be craving for imported brands! Our country makes scrumptious ones too. Some have hearts filled with liqueur, which is enough to keep you in a merry tizzy!
Happy gorging on this passion food!
Photos from the internet.
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Lily Swarn won the Reuel International Prize for Poetry 2016, Global Poet of Peace and Universal Love, Global Icon of Peace from Nigeria, Virtuoso Award and Woman of Substance. A postgraduate in English from Panjab University, she taught at Sacred Heart College, Dalhousie. A gold medallist for Best All-round Student from GCG Chandigarh, she has University Colours for Dramatics. Widely published and interviewed, she authored, A Trellis of Ecstasy and Lilies of the Valley.